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Sign Systems Studies 41(2/3), 2013, 312338

Laura Gherlone

Lotmans epistemology:
Analogy, culture, world
Laura Gherlone
Department of Communication and Social Research
Sapienza University of Rome
Via Salaria 113, 00198 Rome, Italy

Abstract. According to Jeanne Parain-Vial and others, humans are characterized by

their need for analogy, together with the need for logic and intelligibility, and this
need is expressed by a continuous research of models in the scientific field that can,
in some aspects, bring to light some properties of reality, namely be analogous of
them. The knowability of things is founded on analogy; thus, they are not exhausted
by a single model of knowledge but rather through multiple and autonomous forms
of comprehension.
As also pointed out by Juri Lotman and Boris Uspenskij, mythical thought
was the first to postulate the possibility of establishing a relationship of likeness
among very different realities, as in the archetypical cosmological model of world:
a possibility that, as they explain, has survived in post-archaic man, constituting a
fundamental component of cognitive activity and scientific modelling.
The article is dedicated to the use of analogy in Lotmanian semiotic theorization
and to its heuristic and epistemological value.
Keywords: Lotman, semiotics, epistemology, analogy

1. The antinomy unity-multiplicity and

the role of Aristotelian analogy
In modern time, the problem of the relationship between totality and parts (or
unity and multiplicity) strongly emerged in the field of biology around the end
of the 18th century, with the Cuvierian concept of mutual dependence of functions,
namely a perspective that observes the living not through taxonomic-descriptive

Lotmans epistemology: Analogy, culture, world


criteria from the simpler and more inert toward the more living and complex but
catches it in its unity and functional interdependence, as well as in its dynamics. In
his Archologie des sciences humaines Michel Foucault (2005: 291) writes that from
Cuvier and from the concept of focus of identity the identity of the living is certainly
stated through a play of differences, but these emerge only against the background
of great functional unities with their own internal systems of dependences: from
Cuvier multiplicity is apparent and unity is hidden. [] the differences proliferate
on the surface, but deeper down they fade, merge, and mingle, as they approach the
great, mysterious, invisible focal unity, from which the multiple seems to derive, as
though by ceaseless dispersion (Foucault 2005: 291, 293). According to Foucault,
the French biologists vision, with its tension to discover the invariant structure of
reality, or the functional homogeneity that secretly sustains it, lays the foundations
of modern structuralism and reconfigures the whole-part relationship, fundamental
for the developments of cybernetics and the theory of information.1
At that time, the same operation was also made by Goethe, albeit from a different scholarly point of view and in a completely autonomous way.2 The research of

In the following quotation we can glimpse the Lotmanian idea of culture as an organic
system: This reference to function, and this uncoupling of the level of identities from that of
differences, give rise to new relations: those of coexistence, of internal hierarchy, and of dependence
with regard to the level of organic structure (Foucault 2005: 289).
Just as Goethe was elaborating his idea of archetypical level of reality (fundamental for
Russian Symbolism), Cuvier made the conceptual reversal towards the modern biology. The
main distinction between the two scholars as Ernst Cassirer points out was a different
perspective about the movement of reality: static and structural in Cuviers vision; genetic and
dynamic in Goethes. However, even though very close, Goethe criticized Cuvierian structural
functionalism, not appreciating that they both were moving towards the same theorization of
living, although from two different epistemological points of view. Cassirer (2007[1946]: 306
307) putting the antithesis Goethe-Cuvier back in its right perspective and giving at last a
definition of proto-structuralism writes: Goethe did not stand alone in this concept of the
organic world. His theory of metamorphosis was rich in new and original ideas. In order to
defend these ideas he had to challenge the greatest scientific thinkers of his age. In the famous
controversy between Cuvier and Geoffroy de Saint-Hilaire he passionately sided with the latter.
[] [But his polemic with Cuvier was not so incompatible as that with Newtons optics]. Cuvier
advocated a static view of organic nature; Goethe a genetic or dynamic view. The former laid
stress upon the constancy, the latter on the modifiability, of organic types. Yet, when going into
the details of their discussion, we find that Goethe, even in his genetic view, was much nearer to
Cuvier than to Darwin. In his Geschichte der biologischen Theorien Emanuel Rdl describes the
biology of Goethe, of Cuvier and of Geoffroy de Saint-Hilaire as a morphological idealism. That
seems to me to be a very good and felicitous term. It expresses the common basis that remained
unshaken in the controversy. Cuvier, Goethe and Geoffroy de Saint-Hilaire were unanimous in
emphasizing that there are no mere accidental things in an organism. If we have found one of
its characteristics, we have all the others; we can reconstruct the organism in its entirety. Cest


Laura Gherlone

a principle of unity despite the diversity, namely the wish to explain the coherence
of the real (in a metaphysical and physical perspective) leads Goethe to write his
theory of nature,3 referring to what Cassirer talks about as morphologic idealism,
attributing to this the genesis of structuralism, together with Cuviers perspective.
The scientist Goethe, as Tzvetan Todorov (1991: 636) puts it, conceived the idea
of an internal relation among the different species of animals and plants, which had
been originated by transformations [] from a protoform that was not possible
to observe in other words, Goethe established relationships of similarity among
different identities, starting from the intuition of the only matrix.
In both perspectives, the Aristotelian analogy restoration has a fundamental
rule: building bridges among different orders of realities for example, gills are to
respiration in water what the lungs are to respiration in air (Foucault 2005: 288)
it respects the irreducible heterogeneity of the world and, at the same time, foresees that cosmological coherence that the Greek thought had already splendidly
expressed in the word ksmos through the dynamics of logos.4 By virtue of this, the
analogy advances an idea of relationship between the one and the many, in which
the one can only be a whole, decomposable in the many, but not reducible to them.
In fact, with the Cuvierian concept of mutual dependence of functions and the
Goethean morphologic idealism, the organism starts to be studied as a wholeness
clearly not reducible to the sum of its components, or as a system structured on
a multi-level hierarchy in which the upper levels appear to be qualitatively and irreducibly different compared to the lower ones: what is defined, by contemporary
science, as a complex system.5 This qualitative difference, as cybernetics aptly
dans cette dpendance mutuelle des fonctions, says Cuvier, [] et dans ce secours quelles se prtent
rciproquement, que sont fonde les lois qui dterminent les rapports de leurs organes, et qui sont dune
ncessit gale celle des lois mtaphysique et mathmatique. [] dans ltat de vie, les organes
ne sont pas simplement rapprochs, mais quils agissement les uns sur les autres, et concourent tous
ensemble un but commun. [Cuvier, George 1835. Leons danatomie compare. Paris: Crochard,
4950] (Cassirer, Ernst 2007[1946]: 306307).
The most famous writings in which Goethe explains his vision of nature are the poems The
metamorphosis of animals (Die Metamorphose der Tiere) and The metamorphosis of plants
(Versuch die Metamorphose der Pflanzen zu erklren).
The term ksmos is deeply connected with the original meaning of logos (from lghein,
to gather, to get together) a concept used repeatedly by Lotman , which means link,
calculus and becomes word only later. The logos, moving along the multiplicity within its
contradictions and aporie, gathers, connects and joins together the various objects of reality,
highlighting reciprocal links, in order to find a principle of unity in the structure of nature and
thus to achieve a vision and understanding of the existing whole in an ordered whole (ksmos).
The modern complexity is a problem that arose already in Aristotles philosophy by
the concept of entelcheia, namely the emergence of the unity of the whole as a result of the
coordinated activity of parts.

Lotmans epistemology: Analogy, culture, world


pointed out, is linked to the fact that information, fitting in different levels of the
organization of matter, determines in each of these characters and properties that
are diverse also qualitatively and not just through quantitative additions as it was
postulated from the classic taxonomic-descriptive perspective , thus becoming irreducible to one another. Saying that the whole is more than the sum of its parts,
it has basically been stated that the whole contains new information (compared to
those contained in the parts) that characterizes it as an entirety and as an identity;
the information shows itself in its deepest meaning: gives form, unity, order, coordination and directionality.6 At the same time, it has been stated that the whole has
the faculty to replicate its parts, so that the parts can be said to be in a relation of
analogy with the whole and, therefore, contain the identity of the whole.
Here we find an explanation to why, in contemporary science, the Aristotelian
analogy, in close connection with information, returns to play a central role in the
clarification of the relationship between unity and multiplicity: going beyond the
solely biological field, the analogy does not give reason only of the great organic
unities that connect very different realities as Foucault reported with the example of respiration in general (gills are for the respiration in water what lungs are
for breathing the air) but solves in general the structural unity of the complex
systems. Here, moreover, we find the explanation of why methodological reductionism, in order to preserve its heuristic legitimacy, should not end in conceptual
reductionism, which tends to state a correspondence between the whole and the
sum of its parts.
Bearing in mind that there are no mere accidental things in an organism. If we
have found one of its characteristics, we have all the others; we can reconstruct
the organism in its entirety (Cassirer 2007[1946]: 306307), let us see now
how Lotman uses analogy to relate himself to the external world and thus to infer
models of culture which may, in some aspects, reproduce reality itself, namely the

It is not by chance that in the language of biologists and mathematicians, the Aristotelian
schema of hylomorphistic theory is reappearing, through an approach of the concept of
information to substantial form, namely the principle that makes one the whole and
imprints an identity to the matter (Strumia 2002).
In a very similar vein to Cassirers utterance, Lotman (1967: 111-112) says in semiotic terms:
a structural researcher is always interested in relationships. [] he always considers facts in
relationship with one another and with the system in its whole (Lotman 1967: 111112).


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2. Lotman, the analogy and various models of culture

2.1. Semiotics and cybernetics. The super-complex system

The discovery of the weight of information in the complex system organization

highlighted three key issues that we have to underline in order to obtain a deeper
understanding of Lotmans cultural models and, in particular, the cybernetic one:
(1) how can a system maintain its identity and, at the same time, transform itself?;
(2) how can a system preserve its balance in conditions of increasing disorder?;
(3) how can a system generate new information though retaining its informative
When Lotman, since the early essays, defined culture as the totality of nonhereditary information acquired, preserved, and transmitted by the various
groups of human society (Lotman 1977[1967]: 213), he assigned a specifically
cybernetic function to cultural codes: according to him, these become instruments
for preserving and transmitting information (Lotman 1977[1967]: 213), so that
basically an equivalence is established between culture and information. In this way
he does nothing else but treat culture as a complex system, describing its dynamics
and organization in the terms of a cybernetic structure. Now we have to make a
reflection of epistemological sort. In the equivalence
<information : cybernetic complex system (1) = cultural codes : culture (2)>

a theoretical and methodological assumption is implied analogies of proper

proportionality (or similar structures of relationships) are in fact stated between
cybernetic models (1) and semiotic models (2), so that if we know the structure of
relationships and properties of the former, we can describe the structure of the latter
in a similar manner despite the different nature of the two objects (these are so-called
material analogies). In this case, we could talk about an external use of the analogy
in Lotmanian semiotics: in fact, he adopts the analogy as a heuristic device suited
for creating a dialogue of semiotics with the outside world, or rather with the other
sciences, and to deduce patterns that, through the material analogies, might reveal
some properties of culture, which is exactly what happens in the epistemological
comparison between cybernetics and semiotics. Later we will see how Lotman used
the analogy also in an internal way, or as a gnoseological device suited to explain
the semiotic mechanism of culture, namely the internal dynamics of culture.

These three key issues arise since the 1960s1970s in the following writings of Lotmans:
Lotman 1967: 107127; Lotman 1977[1967]; Lotman, Uspensky 1973; Lotman 1980[1975];
Lotman 1979[1976].
It is necessary to underline that the above-mentioned issues in Lotmans theory are strongly
linked to Ivanov 1977[1965]; Ivanov 1978[1962]; Ivanov et al. 1977[1962].

Lotmans epistemology: Analogy, culture, world


According to Lotman, an essential role is played by the hierarchical whole of

codes which, by virtue of their structuring capacity, inform (in the sense of giving
form) cultural objects, giving them a specific typological identity. In these terms,
culture begins to have a new configuration, in which the system of codes, and the
language (langue) in primis, ensures, on the one hand, the unity of the whole the
homeostatic function and, on the other hand, the internal variety; Lotman and
Uspensky (1978[1971]: 226) wrote in 1971 that the mechanism of the cultural
system, on the one hand, would exhibit particular homeostatic functions to such a
degree as to preserve the unity of the memory, to remain the same, and on the other hand, would continually renew itself, deautomatizing itself at every phase and
thereby maximizing its ability to absorb information.
Here we still do not have a real translation of the cybernetic model into semiotic terms, but this prepares the ground for the hypothesis that culture can be configured as an organic unity whose internal dynamism relates to a historically accumulated game of codes so much so that the equivalence culture = information
translates into the equivalence information = memory.
In an essay from a few years later, Culture as collective mind and the problems
of artificial intelligence (1977), Lotman makes a real translation of the cybernetic mechanisms of the complex systems into culture, finding in the latter the attributes (of semiotic nature) that make it a unity clearly not reducible to the sum of
its components, in which the whole is replicated in all parts. As the cornerstone of
the equivalence he puts culture = collective mind a typical property of complex
systems: the homeostasis (in increasing entropy conditions) that, in Lotmanian
terms, is the cultural self-description in conditions of semiotic heterogeneity.
The self-description is the moment in which a culture, in its historical process,
creates a model of itself and, through this, gives order to the system. For the first
time, Lotman and Uspensky talk about it in 1971, in the above-mentioned essay
On semiotic mechanism of culture, they write: at a specific stage in the development of culture, there comes a moment when it becomes conscious of itself, when
it creates a model of itself. The model defines the unified, the artificially schematized image, that is raised to the level of a structural unity. When imposed onto the
reality of this or that culture, it exerts a powerful regulating influence, preordaining the construction of culture, introducing order, and eliminating contradiction
(Lotman, Uspensky 1978[1971]: 227).
In 1977 Lotman again takes up the problem of self-description in the light of
supracomplex models of cybernetics. He opens the essay Culture as collective
mind and the problems of artificial intelligence (Lotman 1979[1977]: 89) by
wondering whether it is possible to transpose to the culture that mechanism by virtue of which, in supracomplex models, the stability of the whole grows with the
growth of the internal diversity of the system and, if so, how this can happen, since


Laura Gherlone

a growing complexity should lead to an increase in entropy.9 According to Lotman,

this problem is still linked to another question: which is the functional necessity
of cultural polyglotism? And, most of all, why is the act of communication always
conceived as an exchange of equivalent things he is referring to Jakobson, Mauss,
Lvi-Strauss if it is an asymmetrical and polyglot exchange? Well, Lotman answers, the appearance of semiotic communications is, at the same time, a source
of heterogeneity and a device of homeostasis. As it happens in supracomplex systems it is true that the culture system shows a high internal diversity this is clearly
Lotmans reference to the Bakhtinian ambivalence , but it also true that these irregular semiotic elements tend to become progressively autonomous structures by
virtue of the unifying power of semiotic communication. Lotman (1979[1977]:
91) writes: The tendency to increase semiotic diversity within the organism of
culture has the result that each meaning-bearing node of its structural organization
begins to show a tendency to turn into a peculiar cultural personality, a closed
immanent world with its own internal structural-semiotic organization, its own
memory, individual behavior, intellectual capacities, and procedure for self-development. [] culture as an integral organism represents a combination of structural-semiotic formations, constructed according to the model of separate personalities, and the systems of connections (communications) between them.
These formations are never atoms detached from the whole: otherwise, Lotman
writes, culture would risk semiotic schizophrenia and then an implosion polyglotism that turns into a Tower of Babel. This is the deep meaning of self-description
as a primary mechanism of semiotics of culture. The emergence of a metalanguage
that necessarily follows the moment of self-description leads culture to understand
itself through what Lotman calls an ideal self-portrait, but also to grasp the meaning of the (seemingly inconsistent) semiotic heterogeneity on a higher level of abstraction (metalevel). The metamechanism of culture, as Lotman (1979[1977]:
9293) puts it, establishes a unity between the parts that strive for autonomy and
becomes a language in which internal intercourse inside that culture is carried on. It
contributes to the unification of separate structural nodes. Through it the isomorphism of the culture as a whole and its parts comes into being.10

And, Lotman carries on, in semiotics terms, this translates into the emergence of a
mechanism, internal to each culture, which serves as principle of identity (cohesion of the whole
and reflection of it in its parts).
I think that here, as in other essays, Lotman assigns to isomorphism the meaning of
similarity, analogy, resemblance. In mathematics, isomorphism actually implies a one-to-one
correspondence between elements of distinct sets, by virtue of which there is no relationship of
proper proportionality (or similarity of relationships), but an out-and-out equality. With reference
to culture, isomorphism thus understood would create a situation of identity among texts and
therefore conditions of semantic implosion: the force of culture, Lotman underlines, is exactly in
its differential and relational unity, where texts just because they are different and, at the same
time, overinformed by cultural identity may give life to ever new instances of meaning.

Lotmans epistemology: Analogy, culture, world


We can realize that these properties have an exceptional value for the explanation of cultural dynamics. Stating that there is an isomorphic relation between culture and its components, namely cultural objects (even if Lotman will talk about
texts) actually means arguing that access to the texts in which the only identity
is replicated can lead to the comprehension of the culture as a whole, provided
that the movement from one to many and vice versa is always dialogic: the culture
in light of the texts, the texts in the light of the culture, otherwise the simplification and the reduction of the whole to its components. It is no accident that in On
the semiosphere (1984), published several years later, Lotman will use a symbolic
prismatic image to explain cultural dynamics:
Like a face, which, wholly reflected in a mirror, is also reflected in any of its
fragments, which, in this form, represent the part and yet remains similar to
the whole mirror; so, too, is the integral semiotic mechanism and the separate
text, relative to the isomorphism of all the texts of the world []. [like] an
object, reflected in a mirror, generates hundreds of reflections in its fragments,
a communication, introduced into the integral semiotic structure, is circulated
at the lower levels. The system facilitates the conversion of the text into an
avalanche of texts. (Lotman 2005[1984]: 215216)

Therefore the cybernetic analogy suggests another fundamental property of culture: as in the complex systems, where there is a resemblance among the parties
and not an identity of structure, so in culture cultural objects are linked to each
other and together by a relation of analogy with the whole (the culture), while, at
the same time, they have their own characteristics: namely, there is always a margin of irreducibility and of dissimilarity among cultural objects (or the semantic
gap). The continuous hybridization of these being objects-in-relation allows
the system-culture to grow exponentially. Lotman often adopts the image of the
Heraclitean logos, that grows by itself, to summarize cultural dynamics; and this is
not by chance, because this term although it has a polysemic meaning11 is summarized in the concept of phronesis (mind): logos and phronesis designate, at the
same time, the language and the intelligence of the world, and undertake to gather
the totality of things uttering and thinking their unity. Therefore the Heraclitean
logos is a mind-that-utters12 that can intuitively read and discourse about the resemblances of reality, by their nature exponentially infinite like unlimited semiosis.
We have thus discovered the internal use of analogy in Lotmanian semiotics:
a gnoseologic device apt to explain the semiosis of culture. Thus, the principle of

See the Heraclitean fragments in Diels-Kranzs encoding.

Again, it is not by chance that Lotman defines culture also as a thinking organization, namely
as a collective mind-that-utters.


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similarity is manifested, both among models belonging to different orders of realities (semiotics, cybernetics, biology) as well as inside the same order. This is why
Lotman suggested already in 1967, in his Thesis on the problem of Art among
the other modelling systems, a move from a semiotics based on the concept of a
system of signs to one grounded on the concept of the model, as a heuristic way
much more malleable or less folded on contingency and closer to the iconic
sign (by its nature based on similarity).
The internal use of analogy leads us to another important consideration. By
it, we discover that the semiotic mechanism of culture has not only an ordering,
informant function, which features cultural heterogeneity as a whole: in this case,
it could not be explained as it happens with the concept of genetic information in
the field of biology the way by which the system maintains and ensures its own
identity and functional unity and, at the same time, transforms itself and grows.
Just by virtue of the relation of similarity and a semantic gap among its components, the semiotic mechanism of culture is also an intelligence creating thought
and it is not a coincidence that after cybernetics Lotman should have been inspired
by the dynamics of the human brain.
Concerning this, let us come back for a moment to the mechanism of self-description. Talking about it, Lotman underlines how, within culture, the structuring
of many semiotic formations interrelated with one another and unified by metalanguage generates a state of constant translation of the untranslatable, namely
the condition of a cultural life: the creation of new information. Culture, always
defined as nonhereditary memory of a collectivity, is now called collective intellect (a
collective phronesis), a generative mechanism of ideas, exactly how it happens in
the cerebral human activity: It is this translation of the untranslatable that is the
mechanistic for the creation of a new thought. At its base lies not a one-for-one transformation, but an approximate model, a resemblance, a metaphor. At this point we
can observe the striking isomorphism between culture the apparatus of collective consciousness and individual consciousness. We have in mind the fact of the
asymmetry of the human brain the semiotic in the work of the left and the right
hemispheres (Lotman 1979[1977]: 9394).
This opens the path to the theoretical switch of the 1980s and 1990s: attention
to all that is heterogeneous in culture leads Lotman to study the functional asymmetries of cerebral hemispheres (the left hemisphere: linguistic functions vs the
right hemisphere: visual-spatial elaboration) and to propose an analogical relationship between the bipolar structures of individual consciousness and the polyglot
mechanism of cultural semiotics, namely the isomorphic correspondence between
human cerebral activity in its dialogical dynamics , collective consciousness,
text and culture. Referring to Ivanovs writings on the structure of human consciousness, Lotman (1979[1977]: 94) writes in his essay Culture as collective

Lotmans epistemology: Analogy, culture, world


mind and the problems of artificial intelligence: No monologic (i.e. monoglot)

apparatus could produce messages that are in principle new (thoughts), i.e. could
be called a thinking apparatus. A thinking apparatus must have in principle (in the
minimal schema) a dialogic (bilingual) structure. This deduction, incidentally,
gives new meaning to the prophetic ideas of M. M. Bakhtin about the structure
of dialogic texts. I have attempted to point out the common features in the study
of individual and collective consciousness, and to indicate a new approach to the
problem of artificial intellect.

2.2. Semiotics and brain. The thinking organization

We have to underline that the relationship between dialogism and the isomorphic
principle13 is not at all new in Lotmans remarks. Already in the essay Myth name
culture (1973) whose profundity of thought reminds of some Mircea Eliades
writings on myth14 Lotman stresses that mythological thought (as an out-and-out
way of knowledge), unlike the logic-syllogistic one, is based on the capacity for
establishing identifications, analogies, and equivalences (1978[1973]: 226), as it
happens, for example, in the isomorphism of universe / society / human body
of the archaic consciousness.15 This way of proceeding of the thinking, Lotman
continues, has by no means been lost and replaced by the abstract one, but rather it
has remained a fundamental gnoseologic basis in humanity:16
It can be assumed that the ontogenetically conditioned mythological layer
is fixed in the consciousness (and language), making it heterogeneous and
in the end creating tension between the poles of mythological and nonmythological perception. [] heterogeneity is a primordial trait of the

The isomorphic principle is meant always in the acceptation stressed in Footnote 10.
In particular The Myth of Eternal Return (1949).
Analogical capacity that Lotman continues has not only settled in the human language
but has served as a fundamental scientific basis for the modern thought (logic-syllogistic)
and, in primis, for the mathematical science. Again, in other essay, written together with Zara
Minc, Literature and Mythology (1981), he said: Just by [mythological] consciousness were
elaborated the ideas of isomorphism and other -morphisms, which have played a crucial role in
the development of mathematics, of philosophy and of other fields of theoretical consciousness
(Lotman, Minc 1981: 209).
The analogy makes also in the modern man infinite possibilities of linking. This is possible
as the analogical language (or creative thought) does not specify the contents in an univocal way
but potentially can express them in an endless variety of forms of expression we could perhaps
talk about nebulous meaning. Analogical mechanisms arise as constitutive of the expressive
form of intuitional language.


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human consciousness, for the mechanism of which the presence of at least two
not completely mutually translatable systems is vitally necessary. (Lotman,
Uspensky 1978[1973]: 218)

In Lotman, myth just like infantile consciousness and, partially, game represents the synthesis of cultural dynamics because, on the one hand, it always needs
another consciousness (the non-mythological or abstract consciousness) to be
translated and, on the other hand, it is structurally untranslatable by this:17 it is just
the asymmetry which rules the relationship between the modern Reason and the
mythological reason, the left hemisphere and the right one, the logic (discrete) language and the analogical (non-discrete) one that is an endless source of meaning, principle of heterogeneity, an essential condition of the human and cultural
Concerning this, Lotman pays particular attention to the difference between
discrete texts and non-discrete texts both in Culture as collective mind and the
problems of artificial intelligence as well as in The phenomenon of culture
(1978), in order to explain the monologic and dialogic mechanisms in the light of
the principle of heterogeneity. He points out that the emergence of new information within culture by virtue of isomorphic principle between individual intellect and collective intellect is realized just through the dialogical encounter between discrete texts (verbal languages, corresponding to the pole of logical-abstract
knowledge) and non-discrete texts (iconic languages, corresponding to the pole
of synthetic knowledge). The constant interference, creolization and reciprocal
translation between these two types of text ensure the elaboration of ever new information within culture.
From the remarks made up till now, we can make a fundamental conclusion
about the function of analogy in Lotmanian semiotics: the coexistence of the one
and the many, or the culture as identity and as heterogeneity, starts to be seen as a
problem of coexistence of languages, which refers to the more general problem of
distinction/separation/primacy between the logical-dialectic reason and the intuitive-noumenal mind. Analogy plays a key role here as it seems to be a dialogical
solution within this antinomy.
The distinction between rational (or abstract) and intuitive thought emerges
in the 1970s in a mature way; however, we have to point out that this argument
was already touched upon in Lotmans early essay Thesis on the problem of Art
among the other modelling systems (1967) in which Lotman (1975[1967]: 4)

In the essay Literature and mythology (1981), Lotman will sharply criticize the bad
translation of the mythological metaphorism by modernity, which with its worship for
Reason tends to impose a logocentric vision of the world.

Lotmans epistemology: Analogy, culture, world


wrote: so, in order that the results [of the modelling activity] can be perceived as
an analogue of the object, they must be subject to specific rules of analogy, formulated on intuitive or rational basis. According to Lotman, the different takes on the
real (thought as mind/nous and thought as reason/dianoia) give back the same reality, making it knowable through its objects, caught both as noumenal objects and
as analytical objects. Analogy has to be submitted to specific rules of intuitive or rational nature precisely because the recognition of relationships of similarity among
the objects takes place via two different ways of thinking: intuitive or strictly analogical (non-discrete) and logical-analytical (discrete).
Summarizing the above, we can state that the external analogy leads Lotman
to be inspired by scientific models of the human brain functioning, while the internal analogy stimulates him to find points of contact between the intuitive consciousness and the logical-analytical one.18 In Literature and mythology (1981),
written together with Zara Minc, he notes that the continuous vision of the world
and its verbal discrete modellization have an enormous cultural and intellectual
value. [] In the last period Lotman continues it has made the attempt to
correlate the continuous consciousness (not-discrete) with the right hemisphere activity and the verbal discrete one with the left hemisphere activity (Lotman,
Minc 1985[1981]: 209). The sedimentation of the non-discrete consciousness in
modern humans and its coexistence with the discrete (logical-analytical) espouses
analogically with the dynamic of the hemispheres. If, according to cybernetics, the
recourse to analogy was linked to the problem of the balance between order and
entropy, stability and growth, now it is linked to interlinguistic and intercerebral
translation the mechanism that ensures the continuous emerging of new information within culture.
If, on the one hand, Lotmans progressive approach to biology leads him to use
an organicistic simile to define culture, on the other hand, it exhorts him to reflect
repeatedly on the epistemological value of the analogy, on its lights and shadows
and this, as we will see, is linked to Lotman s growing worry about the relationship
between humanities and natural sciences and, more generally, the predominance
of science within contemporary culture. We notice it, for example, in the introduction to the various models of culture derived from theories of biological roots. In
Asymmetry and dialogue, an essay from 1983, Lotman writes:
[] the method of scientific though, which is able to reveal deep and otherwise
inaccessible aspects of the phenomena, is analogical. Analogy can also become
a source of mistakes and hasty conclusions, if it does not proceed with caution.

The functional difference between intuitive consciousness and logical-analytical consciousness is well explained in Lotman 1998[1981] and Lotman, Nikolaenko 2000[1983].


Laura Gherlone

This is exactly the case of the analogies between new discoveries in the brain
asymmetry field and the semiotic asymmetry of culture, in particular as
concerns the attempt to attribute the complex functions of culture to the left
hemisphere or the right. [] concepts such as right hemisphericity and
left hemisphericity can be used for the cultural phenomena only for focusing
attention on a functional analogy known at another structural level. The caution
in using this analogy does not diminish but increases its significance. It remains
the most important fact: the belief that every intellectual construct has to have
a bi- or poly-polar and the functions of these substructures are analogical at
different levels: from the single text and the individual consciousness to the
national cultures and all the culture of humanity. (Lotman 1985a[1983]: 104)

This substantial reflection suggests some important aspects of his scientific method
and the idea of culture that is taking shape in the 1980s. First of all, the concept of
functional analogy gives evidence of Lotmans acute awareness of the methodological
debate that had appeared in the humanities, predominantly in the second half of the
20th century namely the need for a profound dialogue with natural sciences: an impracticable dialogue through a mere theoretical borrowing, but potentially fruitful by
the sensible use of analogy, as an epistemological bridge among the various sciences.19 Hence the caution of Lotman in bringing together two systems of different orders, brain and culture, and his attention to thinking at a high level of abstraction, so
that one (the culture) is not flattened on the other (the brain).20

In the 20th century through the research of unifying methodological criteria, the scientific
world undertook the transdisciplinary path as the only solution to the preservation of the
plurality of scientific perspectives that had been seriously compromised by the positivist
reductionism of the 19th century, more oriented to tracing back everything to the criteria of
formal and physic-natural sciences. The path was particularly difficult for the humanities and
social sciences as well as theoretical-philosophical sciences, which should reflect on their
epistemological specificity, thus affirming the reasonableness of the intellectual experience unity,
which is always expressed through a multiplicity of scientific models. The main problem that will
still arise in the humanities now is striking a balance between formalizing and empiric-objective
requirements and the hermeneutic vocation: by virtue of this, the humanities must not give in
to the temptation to lean on the natural sciences to seem more scientific, but rather have to
find out the right harmonization with the latter and, as Lotman writes, to use analogy just as a
dialogical device (Gismondi 2002).
In the same essay, Asymmetry and dialogue (1983), Lotman (1985[1983]: 100) writes:
However, we have firmly to point out that the concepts of right and left hemisphericity, when
implied in the cultural field, are adopted in a completely conventional way and that we have to
consider how they would be in inverted commas. We make use of them just in order to recognize
the analogy that is there between some subsystems functions of the collective consciousness
and of the individual, being aware that the nature itself of this phenomena has not been well
determined yet.

Lotmans epistemology: Analogy, culture, world


Another aspect that emerges from the hierarchical articulation in structuressubstructures analogically linked to one another against the background of the big
organic unity called culture of humanity is the gradual increase of the typical
properties of complex systems: this will lead to a fundamental step in Lotmanian
semiotics in which culture will coincide with the so called semiosphere, definitively sanctioning the organicistic turn.
In his essay A theory about the reciprocal relationship among cultures (from
the semiotic point of view) (1983), Lotman (1985b[1983]: 122) writes:
The tendency towards a growing autonomy of the elements and their transformation in independent unities, and [the tendency towards] an increasing
integration and transformation in parts of a whole contradict and appeal to
each other, producing a structural paradox. The result is the creation of an
one-structure, in which every part is a whole and, at the same time, each whole
works as a part.

2.3. Semiotics and biology. The semiosphere

I would like to open the part dedicated to the last Lotman by framing the scientific
context in which he worked around the 1980s, lingering in particular over those
theoretical instances that, gravitating in the Soviet area, more significantly affected
Lotmanian semiotics: instances that refer essentially to the so-called complex
thought. The reception of this conceptual framework, in fact, was essential for the
realization of that theoretical and methodological leap that shaped a real culturology;
this dilated the structural-formalist roots of the first semiotics towards a dialogical
and interdisciplinary approach of analysis of culture.
Between the 19th and the 20th centuries the horizon of sciences, especially in
the West, saw (and is still seeing now) a shift from a monocular (mechanistic
and deterministic) vision of science to a complex and multi-perspective one. In the
field of formal and physical-natural sciences, a need was acknowledged for a radical
revision of the assumptions around which traditional science defined and recognized itself. Epistemology had to deal with the positivist ideal of the maximum of
datedness, which needed a unified, quantitative, mathematical and axiomatic science (Gismondi 2002). The answer of the scientific world to this definiteness was
a perspective shift, which has seen the emergence of a science based on a plurality
of models and heuristic methods and on the assumption of analogy as an epistemological category for the understanding of the different levels of reality through
which the object (of the scientific research) can occur.


Laura Gherlone

The science of the 20th century, furthermore, in order to explain the complexity of certain phenomena and their properties (holism, aiming and ending, heterogeneity, discontinuity, unpredictability, non-linearity), became increasingly more
directed towards the idea of process, partially overcoming the idea of law of
nature, which, despite its ability to express the occurrences of nature through the
logical-mathematical formalism, cannot explain those excesses and discontinuities,
that are, however, constitutive of the major part of natural phenomena: such as in
biology, and it is not by chance that most humanities use the biological analogy
to explain complex phenomena such as social stratification, the emergence and the
dynamics of cultural processes, the ideological-political movements.
Within the sphere in this science-in-transition (the science of complexity) fall
two thinkers on whose ideas Lotman again through the external analogy drew
strongly: the biologist Vladimir Vernadsky and the chemist Ilya Prigogine.
The contribution of the former to modern biology, as pointed out by Simonetta
Salvestroni, consisted of a reversal of the traditional perspective, which led to a focus not on the individual bricks that make up the living being, but on the network of biological and intellectual relationships that shape reality (the so-called
biosphere): Vernadsky, in essence, interpreted the evolution of the planet as a
whole cosmic, geological, biological, anthropological process (Salvestroni 1985).
Prigogines contribution from his studies on the thermodynamics of irreversible
phenomena was to give a strong push to the switch from a science based on the
idea of cosmos supported by immutable and ordering laws to one based on the
idea of an evolutionary process, which implies a vision of reality much more closely linked to unpredictability.
In the 1980s, Lotmanian culture becomes an extremely complex subject of
study, that expands to greater and greater portions of reality, or to translating heterogeneous phenomena and setting them in dialogue (in a semiotic language) for
this reason, Lotman will talk about culturology.
Lotmans dialogue with natural sciences turns out to be particularly intense.
The orientation towards super-complex systems of the cybernetic type and models inspired by the concept of structure-organism led him to enter the orbit of
Vernadskys biological theories, whose influence was visible in Lotmans essays of
the early 1980s and, in a more mature way, in On the semiosphere (1984).
However, in the preface to Text and Context. Semiotics of Art and Culture, an
anthology published in Italy in 1979, Lotman had already written:
The penetration of the text [which Lotman defines as heterogeneous by virtue
of the continuous process of translation] in the cultural system must not []
be associated with the static proximity of particular mechanisms and reminds
something like the tissue of a living organism more dynamic, interrelated

Lotmans epistemology: Analogy, culture, world


and not subject to unique determinations. So, as the whole of biological beings
forms the biosphere of our planet, which is the indispensable condition for the
existence of life, so the global sphere of culture is the necessary condition for
the existence of thought. Intellectual activity is in fact possible only if there is
a reciprocal relationship between the individual consciousness and the various
semiotic-cultural contexts. (Lotman 1980: 4)

This prepares way for an idea of culture as living tissue swarming with texts, never
completed in themselves, always turned towards the only identity: namely, culture
that is mirror of both the individual identity and collective identity.
The external use of analogy is, at this point, a very fruitful heuristic device,
which leads Lotman to make an operation similar to one of Cuvier: to find a focus
of identity of cultures, not starting from the single bricks, but going to catch it in the
unity of its analogical relations.
The solution proposed by Lotman, regarding semiotics more and more able to
embrace the multiplicity and the heterogeneity of the real, is to create a bridge between biology and culture conceiving the latter, analogically to the living, as an
organic unity and to consider any cultural event, not in a state of isolation, but
rather in a specific semiotic continuum, which is filled with multi-variant semiotic
models situated at a range of hierarchical levels (Lotman 2005[1984]: 206) the
semiosphere, a concept that Lotman derives (borrowing it in a semiotic key)
from Vernadskys work The Biosphere (1926).
Lotmanian semiotics is gradually finding its place in the orbit of the complex
thought, a scientific paradigm that, based on the study of nonlinear systems21 and
on the legacy of cybernetics, has reconsidered the relation between the whole and
its parts in compliance with a holistic vision, arguing for the non-reducibility of the
entire to its single components by virtue of those whole properties that, at certain
levels of complexity, emerge as new information.
Assuming the anti-reductionist perspective of the complex thought, Lotman
(2005[1984]: 208) stated in On the semiosphere: by sticking together individual steaks, we dont obtain a calf, but by cutting up a calf, we may obtain steaks,
as if to say that culture, as organism provided with multiple levels of organization
and stratification, can be surely broken down in many formal objects but it will be

Study inaugurated by Henri Poincar and then abandoned for decades after his death. The
concept of non-linearity, in physics and in mathematical sciences, was a fact crucial for the
introduction of the concept of complexity, namely the non-reducibility of the whole to the sum
of its parts. In fact, when it works with non-linear systems, it is not possible to trace back the
study of a solution to the study of simpler and well-known solutions and this is fundamental
if we think that most of natural phenomena can be described just through systems of non-linear


Laura Gherlone

understood in its richness only through an overview, based on the interdisciplinary

We also have to keep in mind that this essay starts precisely with a reflection
on the tendency of structuralism to ontological reductionism. The methodological
statement of the traditional scientific thought, Lotman writes, is to set the simplest
element as a starting point and to examine the entirety in the light of the smallest
constituents. However, Lotman (2005[1984]: 206) continues, in this there is
also the danger that heuristic expedience (the convenience of analysis) comes to
be accepted as the ontological character of the object, which is assigned to it by the
structure derived from the simplest and clearly outlined atomistic elements, in accordance with their complexity.The complex object is thus reduced to the totality
of the simple. Let us thus pick up, for a moment, the epistemological premise of
On the semiosphere. According to Lotman, the tendency of semiotic traditions
to consider the simplest and atomic elements as the basis a tendency that even
Soviet semiotics followed at the time of the Symposium on the structural study of
sign systems (1962) can surely be considered as a heuristic opportunity, a facilitation in the study of complex semiotic objects; however, in case this opportunity is
translated into a simplification of the object, or transforms the reduction into an
ontological character of the object (Lotman (2005[1984]: 206), then semiotics
would betray its own purpose here Lotman is basically describing the shift from
methodological to conceptual reductionism.
The choice, therefore, to abandon the equivalence complex object as sum of
simple elements, privileging an organicistic vision of culture, is precisely about a
concern of the epistemological order, which can lead semiotics to paths incompatible with its object of research: culture is extremely complex by its nature. [A]ll
structures will look as if they are constructed out of individual bricks. However, it
is more useful to establish a contrasting view: all semiotic space may be regarded
as a unified mechanism (if not organism). In this case, primacy does not lie in one
or another sign, but in the greater system, namely the semiosphere (Lotman
(2005[1984]: 208). The semiosphere emerges as a semiotic continuum in which
every single semiotic act is such by virtue of the semiosic membrane that informs
it. Hence, Lotman (2005[1984]: 220) wonders: [I]s the whole universe not a
form of communication, falling within an ever more general semiosphere? Is it not
destined for a universal reading?
He does not give, for the moment, an answer to this question, leaving it as the
final reflection of his intellectual parable. However, this question mark opens the
way for further reflection, that is the relation between isomorphism and asymmetry, identity and difference. Lotman premises, in fact, that in case we want to
study the semiosphere as a universal unity, the principle of heterogeneity should
be guaranteed, such as a basic mechanism of culture: the homogeneity of an

Lotmans epistemology: Analogy, culture, world


organism must always be matched by the heterogeneity of its elements. How does
this dynamic happen? Lotman sees the semiosphere as a hierarchical system with
various levels of organization where, however, the hierarchy does not imply a distribution of its elements in terms of value from the most important language to
the least but in terms of (reflected) relationships with the extra-linguistic world;
Lotman (2005[1984]: 216) writes: [T]he textual and iconic languages of pictorial forms are not isomorphic to each other.Buteach of them, in a variety of ways,
is isomorphic in the extra-semiotic world of reality, which they represent in a given
language. Some years later, in his Culture and Explosion, Lotman will talk about
a resolution of the antinomy relationship between language and world beyond the
boundaries of language: it is exactly the reciprocal untranslatability of languages
(polyglotism) that is the source of the adequacy of the extra-linguistic object as
regards its reflection in the world of language (semiosphere) the unsayability of
the world uttered through logical-analytical language (to render the inexpressible
in words and to express the world, which lies beyond the limits of logic, in logical terms)can become an accomplished expression through the synthetic-creative
language and vice versa (Lotman 2009[1992]: 21).
Here, the distinction between primary and secondary modelling has definitely lapsed and the role of the isomorphic principle is clarified; a principle that implies both a relationship of vertical similarity (identity) among the elements of the
semiophere which ensures the unity of the system as well as a relationship of
horizontal heterogeneity (asymmetry) among them which provides the system
This organization has a fundamental consequence in terms of emergence of
new information. Concerning this, Lotman uses two beautiful images to explain
the productivity of the Heraclitean logos: the face, and the object in the crushed
mirror. The vertical isomorphism, by virtue of the principle of identity among culture, text and individual consciousness,22 and the horizontal asymmetry together
produce an exponential growth of information, namely unlimited semiosis.
What we have just said has fundamental consequences from the point of view
of Lotmanian ethics. Lotman, in order to explain the value of the difference (asymmetry) within the identity, uses an image he holds very dear: that of hands superimposed (enantiomorphism). The opposable hands, in fact, are identical, but they
lose their specular symmetry when superimposed. The same occurs in communication: it is not possible communication and, therefore, knowledge (information
exchange) outside a dialogical relationship where, despite mutual understanding,
the subjects of the communicative act remain irreducible to each other. Dialogue,
Lotman goes on to say (2005[1984]: 218), precedes language and gives birth to

Provided it is in a constant relation with extra-cultural reality.


Laura Gherlone

it: the image of Robinson Crusoe who lives in seclusion is utopian and contradicts
It has to be stressed that, according to Lotman, dialogue is the same semiosphere or the substratum of meaning that informs us and precedes us in any act.
And for this reason, it is not possible even to think about the semiosphere without a horizontal heterogeneity: it would be an intrinsic contradiction to cultural
semiosis, so that semiosphere only held up by vertical isomorphism would in
result be all flattened to the identical and finally implode, exhausting itself in the
The enantiomorphic principle becomes, therefore, a symbol of the isomorphism-asymmetry bond because it is expression of what we might call a correlative difference: this distinguishes both identity rendering dialogue unless
and non-correlative difference rendering it impossible. [] the enantiomorphism represents the primary mechanism of dialogue (Lotman 2005[1984]:

2.4. Semiotics and epistemology of complexity.

The laboratory of unpredictability

The idea of process also enters Lotmanian semiotics, especially with regard to
Prigogines studies of complexity and the new alliance between man and nature.
The Russian scientist and epistemologist, studying non-equilibrium thermodynamics,23 assigned a driving role in the thermodynamic systems evolution
to complexity and the emergence of the unpredictable, scaling down the clout
gained by the laws of nature in the (at times deterministic) explanation of the latter.24 Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti (2002: 797798) points out that what he did was
to affirm unpredictability over predictability, non-equilibrium over equilibrium,
creative development over the expected, falling however by the assignment of

The study of evolution of thermodynamic systems, far from solutions of equilibrium, allows
to describe the emergence of organized structures morphologically richer and more complex
than shown by the starting system. The non-equilibrium solutions possible around the
systems bifurcation points, which are also the less explicable and therefore only dealt with in a
probabilistic way describe the evolutionary dimension or creative development of the system.
The equilibrium solutions, which come true far from the bifurcation point instead, would trace
the system back to the predictable and deterministic phenomenology, represented by its wellknown laws (Tanzella-Nitti 2002).
More easily associated with the description of equilibrium systems, with static solutions,
with predictable developments, natural laws would refer to the notion of a bond and of eternal
recurrence, while the idea of emergence or complexity would refer to the notion of creativity
or event of freedom (Tanzella-Nitti 2002: 797).

Lotmans epistemology: Analogy, culture, world


a metaphysics value to the non-equilibrium thermodynamics paradigm in a bypassing of his epistemological field: Prigogine, reopening the terms of an already
classic tension, supported the primacy of becoming above being, process above
substance, introducing into this comparison great ideas of philosophy and religion as an appropriate philosophical frame he cited Martin Heideggers work
Being and Time (1927), and Alfred North Whiteheads philosophy of process.
Prigogine, claiming a less deterministic science on behalf of one more tied to
the creative force of unpredictability, in a way attempted an interdisciplinary dialogue with the humanities, the seat of creativity and freedom, namely of those attributes that might inhabit also natural science.25
Although seemingly far from the semiotic discourse, the non-equilibrium thermodynamics phenomenology welcomed by Lotman in his later works underpins several cruxes of Lotmanian thought, in particular those related to time; and
not casually, since Prigogines scientific paradigm is precisely focused on the transition from the concept of static time (expected) to one that is dynamic-creative (unpredictable). Obviously, Lotmans time is not a physical but a semiotic category,
which refers to historical constructions, namely the ideological-political, artistic,
scientific visions: the semiotized time par excellence.
The external analogy is thus created by an epistemological encounter between
the scientific notions of predictability and unpredictability26 and the historicalsemiotic concepts of gradualism and explosion; it represents, therefore, the device
through which Lotman definitively gets in possession of history, reintroducing it
into the semiotic mechanism of culture his later writings, in fact, all lean towards
an explanation of the ways through which culture moves forward in its historical
development. Lotman (2009[1992]: 8) writes: A minefield with unexpected explosive points and a river in spring with its powerful but directed stream these
are the two images visualised by the historian studying dynamic (explosive) and
gradual processes.
What Lotman did in his later works, Culture and Explosion (1992) and
Unpredictable Mechanisms of Culture (1993, posthumous), was to give historical
thickness to semiosphere, bringing to light the semiotic mechanisms that underlie
the great ideological constructions and their internal contradictions.

Tanzella-Nitti (2002: 797798) does not lack in adopting a seriously critical perspective
towards Prigogine: the Russian chemist, in fact, would tend to create a reductionist equivalence
between natural laws and determinism, between the principle of legality (namely the regularities
or laws of nature) and fixity, thereby attributing the capacity of generating innovation and
richness in the universe just to non-equilibrium thermodynamics.
Concepts that, as we have just seen, implied the notions of natural laws and evolutionary


Laura Gherlone

Concerning this, Lotmans semiotic conception of temporality is in strong connection with the ways in which humanity thinks about itself and expresses the phenomenological world that surrounds it: art, science, ancient and modern mythologies (namely the grand narratives), technology, behaviour and collective passions,
economic systems, social configurations (in their individual-collective polarization), history and geography these latter intended as human constructions and
interpretative categories of temporality and spatiality.
We could sum up the system of similarity relationships between Lotmans and
Prigogines thought as depicted in Table 1.
The question that underlies Lotmans growing emphasis on unpredictability concerns the idea of culturology as a science able to reproduce, progressively more, the
real dynamics of culture. Scientific investigation, as pointed out by Mihhail Lotman
(1993: 484), generally tends to analyze the realized, stopping short of the realm of
the failed potentialities: an approach that is harmful to the study of culture, which
Mihhail Lotman (1993: 484) continues is not made by manifestly realized events
but also by all those unrealized possibilities [that] are also of the essence of reality
even if they are fated to remain in a state of latent possibility. However, these possibilities build the dynamic potential of culture, i.e., its unexploded paths and possible
bifurcations: as if to say that a loaded but undischarged gun is not functionally identical with an unloaded one (M. Lotman 1993: 484).
The adoption of a scientific approach to culture that denies the possible and
disowns the unpredictable can have two essential consequences, according to
Lotman. Firstly, in the wake of Hegelian historicism, the lost ways are forgotten by the scholar, who thus deprives the model of its complexity (the hierarchical stratification of possibilities) and its intrinsic dynamics. Secondly, this creates
a model of culture in which the historical dimension par excellence the field in
which the dialectic between events-in-potential and events-in-being is played out
is completely reduced to it could not have gone in a different way: namely the
false eschatological inevitability of events that often turns into an ideology of history. The value of unpredictability, in Lotmans writings, has an eminently ethical nature and not safeguarding it can lead to an impasse both on the theoretical horizon
as well as on the pragmatic one; in Culture and Explosion, Lotman (2009[1992]:
14) writes: By removing the moment of unpredictability from the historical process, we make it totally redundant. From the position of a bearer of Reason who
holds to the process of the internal point of view (such as may be God, Hegel or
any other philosopher, who has mastered the singular scientific method), this
movement is deprived of informativity, i.e., of the new that can open up unthinkable paths and bring to light unexpected possibilities.

(eternally constant or

Paradigmatic field of human activity


creative process

history as iteration

Human interpretations of the temporality

myth and ritualism

harmony or the Platonic

closed circle

eternally immutable being)

(points of bifurcation)
creativity and freedom
binary or
ternary or
description of
description of
history as

eternal recurrence
archetypical order

art, science

the creator-experimenter

multiple-linear time

Metaphysical conception of the time


the great watchmaker


or inevitable predestination
the great teacher or

eschatological movement

history as


Paradigm 2
emergence of complexity
linear, dynamic time
unbalanced processes (asymmetry)
linear predictability
unpredictability or

Paradigm 1
natural laws
cyclic time
balanced processes (symmetry)
total predictability

Scientific vision based on

Physical conception of time
In Prigogines terms
Ways of the historical manifesting

Table 1. The Prigogine-Lotmans biosemiotic conception of time.

Lotmans epistemology: Analogy, culture, world



Laura Gherlone

Unpredictability in this sense is the opposite not so much of predictability but

rather of mono-perspectivity, namely of a vision of things that does not take into
account the substantial diversity of the real, in its being in presence or in potential,
visible or invisible.
According to Lotman, in fact, predictability has a positive value and a key role
in the historical-cultural process, as an engine of the new even though in an expectant form, or prepared and gradually accompanied by an incremental sequence
of events (by the river in spring with its powerful but directed stream (Lotman
2009[1992]: 8).
Therefore we should not see the predictability as a source of ideological inflections (the inescapable pre-order of facts), but rather the exegesis that man, historian-prophet (Lotman 2009[1992]: 126), makes a posteriori, thereby building
an interpretive category of history and a narrativization of memory ad hoc, a mono-perspective. Culture, Lotman (2009[1992]: 126), writes, reconstructs its own
past, transforms and corrects the memory and, with an eye in the past and the consciousness in the present, interprets its own history as an inevitable destination
If predictability is prepared and conducted by the chain of events, unpredictability is their suspension: it is like a hole within the paradigm of possibilities
(realized or latent), from which the unexpected spills out: the unexpected that
can emerge both as an historical event one only needs to think of the fall of the
Roman Empire fall or the perestrojka or, more generally, as an explosion of meaning. Since in Culture and Explosion the dimension of time emerges significantly in
its semiotized form, or history, particular attention is paid to explosion as an historical turn hence, the distinction between the binary structure and the ternary
structure of explosion;27 however, it should not be forgotten that, both in this work
and especially in the posthumous Unpredictable Mechanism of Culture, unpredictability is an all-embracing concept: it is an opening of meaning in its more internal nature polyglotism, namely the multiple and irreducible and (sometimes)
inaccessible ways of the real saying itself; it is the multiplicity of the real itself expressed and unexpressed, realized and in potential which, just through the deep
encounter of different languages and many mutually dependent correlative Is

Lotman (2009[1992]: 167) explains the difference between ternary and binary structures
in the following way: [T]ernary structures retain certain values from the antecedent period
and transport them from the periphery to the centre of the system. By contrast, the ideal binary
system is represented by the complete destruction of all that already exists which is considered
to be irremediably corrupt. The ternary system strives to adapt the ideal to reality, whereas
the binary system seeks, in practice, to actualise an unrealizable ideal. In binary systems, the
explosion penetrates life in its entirety. The ruthless nature of this experiment is not immediately
apparent. First of all it attracts the most maximalist layers of society by virtue of its radicalism and
a poetic subscription to the immediate construction of a new earth and a new sky.

Lotmans epistemology: Analogy, culture, world


(Lotman 2009[1992]: 24), shows itself in its own richness, diversity and untranslatability, unexpectedly demolishing the wall of the noumenal.
In Lotman, the unpredictability and, therefore, the explosion of meaning create a possibility that man has to know the reality in a profound way, not stopping in
front of a reality that seems to be (Kantianly) fatally unknowable, but crossing
this boundary through multilingual dialogue.
Because of the epiphany of heterogeneity, unpredictability is also the discovery
of the different, of the utterly Other-than-self, that unhinges the mono-perspectivity imposing a multiple vision of the world. Misunderstanding, untranslatability, the
(apparent) semiotic impermeabilities here become inexhaustible sources of new
meaning, that is the real life of the semiosphere. Acknowledging them helps the
scholar of culture and, more generally, the scientist to resist the temptation to
build a perfect system, a model unassailable because absolutely abstract, an ideal
unity that does not have anything to do with reality. According to Lotman, in fact,
science runs the risk to accommodate to the only abstraction, i.e., to a synthetic
way of the mind proceeding, ideally unifying and systematizing; the reality, on the
contrary, is essentially contradictory and to catch it means thinking in an antinomic
way and espousing reason (dianoia) with intuition (nous) and experience (empeiria): this is what saves thought and being from an ideological and pragmatical turning, which always arises within a self-referential, polarized and unanchored vision
of reality. In this sense, Lotman is very close to Florenskys epistemology, founded
just on the antinomy. This is deeply tied to the life, full of meanings and related
opposites. People choose usually just one perspective since to keep one and its opposite is lacerating, but in this way they distort the integral experience of reality.
It follows that what most people consider the truth is only one pole of the whole
truth, drawing on this requires the courage to move from ones own perspective toward its opposite. Keeping alive ones own truth and, encompassing its opposite at
the same time, you enter antinomy.28
We can definitely say that Lotmans whole work and, in particular, his latest intellectual production are pervaded with the pursuit of this tension between opposites and by the resolution in the maintaining of the alterity, the fount of the unpredictable: the returning of the integral experience of reality is an inevitable consequence of this.


See Florensky 1997[1914].


Laura Gherlone

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Laura Gherlone

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Lotmani epistemoloogia: analoogia, kultuur, maailm

Jeanne Parain-Viali jrgi iseloomustab inimesi lisaks vajadusele loogika ja mistetavuse jrele ka
nende analoogiavajadus ning seda vajadust vljendab teaduse vallas pidev mudelite otsimine,
mis vivad heita valgust reaalsuse mnedele omadustele, nimelt olla nendega analoogilised. Asjade teadmise vimalikkus tugineb analoogiale; seega ei ammenda neid ksainus teadmise mudel,
vaid pigem mistmise arvukad ja autonoomsed vormid.
Nagu on osutanud Juri Lotman ja Boriss Uspenski, postuleeriti vga erinevate reaalsuste
vahelise sarnasussuhte kehtestamise vimalus kigepealt mtilises mtlemises, niteks kosmoloogilises maaimamudelis, milles universumit, hiskonda ja inimkeha peeti isomorfseteks
maailmadeks: vimalus, mis, nagu nad selgitavad, on silinud ka postarhailistel inimestel, moodustades kognitiivse aktiivsuse ja teadusliku modelleerimise he alustrajava koostisosa.
See artikkel on phendatud analoogia kasutamisele Lotmani semiootilises teoorias ning selle
heuristilisele ja epistemoloogilisele vrtusele.